The achievement of balanced regional growth is a core objective of Government. Promoting entrepreneurship, attracting inward investment and facilitating the key infrastructural needs of Irish enterprise across all regions is vital to ensuring a vigorous pipeline of new business leaders, new business ideas and entrepreneurial activity. The Action Plan for Jobs is a whole of Government, national strategy aimed at creating and sustaining jobs across all regions of the State. The objective of balanced regional development is supported by the EU Commission's Regional Aid Guidelines, which recognise that some regions can face significant structural disadvantage. Regional Aid Guidelines permit Member States to grant higher investment aid in areas suffering such structural disadvantage.
All of the enterprise development agencies have regional structures to maximise local opportunities. Both Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland have offices in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Galway and Letterkenny, Co. Donegal. This regional spread allows the agencies to drive take-up of their services and supports such as entrepreneurship programmes focused on identifying new business opportunities, at a local level, thereby maximising take up and impact. In addition, EI has a network of 110 Community Enterprise Centres in operation across the regions. At present, two thirds of employment in Enterprise Ireland client companies, well in excess of 100,000 jobs, is currently located outside of Dublin.
The establishment of a one-stop-shop to provide micro-enterprise support through the dissolution of the existing CEB offices and the creation of a new network of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) will ensure an enhanced delivery of support to micro-enterprises in the regions and nationally. Microfinance Ireland is also providing support to such businesses. This comes in the form of loans available to microenterprises of up to €25,000 to start-up, newly-established or growing firms employing less than 10 people with viable business propositions that do not meet the conventional risk criteria applied by the banks. The Fund has a significant entrepreneurship focus and is open to anyone with a viable business proposal.
LEADER, which falls under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government also provides both direct and indirect support to enterprise start-ups and already established microenterprises in rural areas all over Ireland. Since 2009, almost €20m has been provided for direct support to enterprise in rural Ireland through the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2007-2013. A significant proportion of the resources provided through the RDP Training Measure, which has registered a further €10m in expenditure to date, also provides indirect capacity building and mentoring support for rural entrepreneurs.
To support the development of a pipeline of High Potential Start-Ups across all regions of the country, Enterprise Ireland has the following initiatives in place:
- The New Frontiers Programme
- Competitive Feasibility Fund aimed at stimulating start-ups and creating jobs and growth in the regions.
- The "Get Export Ready" Programme encompasses a wide range of practical measures for early exporters focusing on export readiness, the importance of research, developing a value proposition and the skills of export selling.
- Innovation Vouchers worth €5,000, give small companies access to the vast knowledge available in Irish Institutes of Technology, Universities and other public research bodies.
I believe that these measures combined with other initiatives set out in the Action Plan for Jobs will assist the development of investment and employment opportunities at regional level and across the country generally and help to achieve our objective of making Ireland the best small country in which to do business.